Long before Mariann Leahy settled into her Sedona-area home, with its breathtaking views of the rich red rocks, she had exchanged canvases for clays to express her talents. “Clay, coming from the earth, provides for me a natural tactile connection with our fragile world,” she has written. As a child in Illinois, her parents had fostered an appreciation of birch trees and aspen, horses, ancient Indian mounds and current Indian cultures, and the budding artist drew then painted it all. Early lessons at the Art Institute of Chicago helped hone her childhood skills. At the age of eight, shortly after the death of her father, Leahy’s remaining family took a cross-country drive; as they stopped to explore ancient sites along the way the experience became one that would mark her forever.
Mariann Leahy would continue cross-country exploration of this country’s native heritage even as she focused on drawing and painting while working for over fifteen years as an art teacher in the multicultural Chicago area. As the southwest claimed its hold on her, and the tactile draw of clay began, Mariann Leahy found herself returning to the Art Institute of Chicago, this time with a scholarship for graduate work to study ceramics. By combining a love of painting with her new-found skills with clay, Mariann Leahy developed a style distinctly her own.
Mariann Leahy first cuts red clay and works in mica she’s pulverized herself to give added texture to the new piece she forms. Then, “I’ll cut out shapes I’ve drawn of horses or deer, turtles, birds, lightning bolts, hands and spirals,” Mariann Leahy explains. “I use a thin brush dipped in black velour glaze to either trace or copy an outline of the form onto new pieces.” The shapes are filled in with three to four layers of glaze, shiny or matte, before firing.
With ancient myths and symbols as inspiration, stories feed into every piece Mariann Leahy creates. “Because the glazes you paint with aren’t the colors they end up when fired I have to see a finished piece in my mind as I paint, to position the right colors and shapes,” she explains. Leahy’s unique skill is in the ‘shading’ she achieves by positioning in a specific area just the right sized shape of just the right tone of color.
In her wide variety of pieces Mariann Leahy gives a contemporary look to works that echo ancient motifs.